Phone interview with Ian McFarland, director/editor/producer of Meshuggah 'Alive' DVD
By Aniruddh "Andrew" Bansal
February 20th 2010, Los Angeles CA
Andrew: The Meshuggah DVD has been going pretty great, hasn't it? How long did the whole process take?
Ian: Yeah its cool to be involved with such an iconic band as Meshuggah, being allowed to be part of their camp and family. It's been an overwhelming experience. I met Meshuggah a while back, when Mike Pecci and I were gearing up to do the 'Bleed' music video and the relationship progressed from there. As far as the "Alive" Concert film, it took about 10 months-a week of shooting and then editing off and on. Because we went back and forth with the band throughout the whole process, we would keep coming back to it.
Andrew: So can this be called a concert+documentary kind of thing?
Ian: Its kind of a mix of live concert, a little bit of documentary and a little bit of art. Like I said before, to see Meshuggah is an experience and you want to have that same experience at home. They are an extremely powerful act to witness. They're phenomenal. As chaotic and crazy as their music is, you can really just sit back and let yourself be entranced and feel every note. The more you listen to it, the more you understand why every note is put where it is.
Andrew: How hard is it to edit stuff like this, putting together so much of it into a fixed length of time for the DVD?
Ian: That was the challenging part. It was a little daunting to figure out how to put together something that fit the mystique of the band. Instead of going the cliched route of fast edits, we decided to do something different. The viewer wouldn't have been able to sit back and visually enjoy what they were hearing. I wanted to show the feeling that I get when listening to them. When I listen to them I feel this powerful presence and it was a lot of fun to edit it together.
Actually, the hardest part of putting this thing together was the production aspect of it-not the edit. On top of that, Meshuggah are perfectionists. If they had one note off in a track, they wanted to scrap it. To me, I could understand where they were coming from, but that's the rawness of a live act so those things are forgivable to me. They really care about every note they put out. I can't express to you just how much they care about their music. I can't speak for them, but in my opinion, I don't think they necessarily care about sales that much. All they care about is getting their point across and blowing the listener away. They are unbelievable guys and extremely humble.
Andrew: How different would you say it is working with bands rather than as a regular director, working with movie stars?
Ian: I guess the difference is when you're working with a band in a live scenario, you're basically capturing them as if it's a documentary. When you're working with an actor in a movie scene, that's a completely different monster. But, the thing that is similar is, each artist or actor brings their own personality to their project and that's what makes each project different. I've done a lot of documentaries and that's the kind of approach I wanted to do with this concert film. Its not just like going to see live footage of a big concert with multiple cameras. I mean yes, we did have a lot of cameras from a lot of angles but we still tried to keep it raw, not having giant cranes swooping in and super long lenses. We wanted to take every place that they played and give it that individual, cool unique look that place showed, and then show Meshuggah in that scenario. They dominate every show. (laughs) I can't express it enough.
Andrew: Why do you think concert DVDs have fast cuts, not allowing a person to see something he wants to even for a few seconds?
Ian: I started my career doing more of editing and I did that first so that I could understand what I would need as a director to have before the editing process.
If you watch the Meshuggah Bleed video or the Fear Factory video that Mike Pecci and I just did, those are fast and chaotic edits. But that's what we were trying to do there. If you do that in a live performance, in a way you might be cheating because it takes a lot less work to edit something really fast and its easier to hide mistakes than to let a shot play out. It [Meshuggah 'Alive' DVD] really lets the Directors of Photography shine with their camera work. I hand picked these DPs and these guys really cared about every frame. They all knew who Meshuggah was, they were fans of the music and that's what makes it special, too. Its different, its not a band DVD. By default it is, but its experiencing Meshuggah the way they want you to experience them live.
Andrew: That's how it should be!
Ian: Yeah exactly. My inspiration for this film came from the Led Zeppelin concert film 'Song Remains The Same'. Its awesome!
If you watch it, you will see why.
When I talked to the guys in Meshuggah about doing this DVD and they asked me for ideas, I said there are few things I want to do. One thing I wanted to show is how it is to be in Meshuggah on the road, without showing the partying and the crazy stuff. Touring is really trying to figure out how to kill 23 hours in the day. When you're on stage for that one hour, it makes it all worthwhile. During those other 23 hours in the day, you get to see what the guys are like, very humble and down to earth. The goal was to humanize these guys and humanize the band as the artists they are. That's what makes this thing cool. I'm very proud that it seems to be getting the accolades that we hoped. But then again, the only people that I really needed to impress and make happy was Meshuggah.
Andrew: Normally does the band have a say in these things?
Ian: It depends. Some say more than others. For example, music videos are always just a commercial for that album. So different bands have different agendas. The bands that we don't really want to work with, especially in the metal genre, are the ones who just want to be like everybody else. Mike and I want to work with artists that are willing to take a risk, step outside their genre and do something different, then allow us to bring to the table what we do well. What is irritating about the metal genre is that you get so many bands, awesome great bands, who just get thrown into a warehouse or alley or a dark place, which is just so cliche and boring. We work with artists who are willing to collaborate-where they are as much a part of the concept as we are. We can walk away with something that fans see and go, 'Wow I've never seen that before'.
Andrew: Any major projects you have coming up that you want to tell us about?
Ian: Yeah I have a bunch of stuff actually. I own a production company called Killswitch Productions. We do a lot of documentaries, commercials, short films, music videos and feature films. I have a couple of editors working full time on those projects.
Mike and I are about to release a website today that is just for our music videos. The address is www.mcfarlandandpecci.com. He is one of my best friends and we have a great collaboration when we do our music videos together. We don't really make any money on these things. We just have a lot of fun doing them. They offer an opportunity to explore new ideas and techniques. This week we just secured a project with a major producer. His name is Kris Meyer and he is the Farrelly Brothers producer. He lives here in Boston and is a good friend of mine. Mike Pecci is going to direct it and I'm going to co-produce with Kris. The filmed is called 'Circling The Drain'. It's a brutal and violent tale about a night gone wrong with two paramedics. That's going to be our focus this year. Then I have a couple of documentaries that we're also going to do this year. I'm talking to some interesting people. Next week we are doing a video for Periphery and at the end of the month we are doing a video for Sick Of It All. On top of all that I'm shooting a TV show for PBS this year and I'm going to Nicaragua later next month to shoot an episode for that show. There's always something going on, man.